Installing Windows 7 on a MacBook Air


Roughly a year after my Windows Vista installation on a MacBook Air (MBA), it is time for an update. Running Windows 7 for quite some time on my personal laptop and on my office systems, I decided it was time for an upgrade.

Vista runs great on the MBA. I almost never had any issues. Since a few weeks ago the keyboard backlight has to be turned on manually. Sometimes the laptop does not come back from sleep and requires hard reboot (same but less often in Mac OS). That said I consider the MBA a decent system to run Windows Vista.

So far we (we? See later) have only little experience running Windows 7 Beta on the MBA but boot time has greatly improved and resume from sleep hasn’t caused any issues. The keyboard backlight works again. The whole system seems to run much faster and is more responsive.

Read on to find out about my installation of 32-bit Vista Ultimate on a MacBook Air.

Vista on a MacBook Air – Wrap up

Quite a few people sent private email or left comments on the previous post about the Vista install. Thanks very much for your attention, tips and questions and apologize if I have not replied to you!

I ended up with a Windows Vista Boot Camp installation and the MBA is very, very rarely booted into the Mac OS. I kept both, Vista and the Mac OS, up to date with fixes and Service Packs and both OSses work very well on the MBA.

Below an image of the perf. information window of Windows Vista on the MBA:

clip_image001

I cannot confirm that the MBA gets hot when in Vista and doing more than just web browsing. All in all I am a happy customer.

I have to admit though that I do not have a lot of access to the MBA. My wife is using it. She “took it away” from me some time ago. Her previous laptop was a <insert a common brand name > and she felt like she wanted to use something more stylish. What can you do … She uses the laptop every day, always running Vista.
Looking at the typical use pattern, doing email, writing documents, surfing the web, working with spreadsheets for her small business, I would consider her an information worker type of user.

Windows 7 on a MacBook Air

Let’s take a look at the Windows 7 install on our MBA. Remember, I have a previous installation of Windows Vista on the disk. The goal was to wipe the existing Windows Vista partition and install Windows 7 (Win7) instead. My MBA has a 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and a 64GB solid state drive. It is one of the first generation MBAs and YMMV when installing and running Win7.
BTW, I installed the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate. I didn’t see the need for a 64-bit OS on a system like the MBA.

 

USB Boot

I tried to build a USB stick with the Win7 ISO image on it to boot the MBA from a USB stick. There’s a great video over at TechNet Edge Installing Win7 using a USB Stick. I tried to create the USB stick using the video and paying close attention to the comments from many of the folks having watched the video. I could never get the MBA to boot from a USB stick or even recognize the USB stick as a bootable device. My stripped down version of the Mac OS on another USBV stick boots just fine. I’ve tried the media I prepared on a laptop and it worked well. Since I did not figure out what the issue is, I assume it is due to user error or I missed something. Too bad. Note to self: Further investigation necessary.

 

Network Boot

The MBA allows accessing a wirelessly shared DVD/CD-ROM. Did it work to boot and install from it? Short answer, no. I have 2 wireless networks at home, one for video streaming (802.11n), one for web, email etc (802.11g). Only the latter was visible. The transmission is protected via WPA2. I was able to connect to the network form the MBA boot screen but I was not able to see the disk I had shared via the Apple utility on the same network on an XP box. Even removing WPA and opening the network wide did not yield any results. Note to self: Requires more testing.

 

Installation via SuperDrive

This is the installation I went for. Connecting the DVD drive, rebooting the MBA and waiting for the DVD media to appear in the boot menu while pressing the Option key. After selecting the DVD icon, everything continued to go very smooth. Well, I had to reboot once because I missed the “Press any key to boot from DVD …” dialog and the system booted back into Windows Vista.

Having done quite a few installations over the last months I was a bit surprised how long the installation actually took. For Windows 7 standards I have to say. While I did not measure the exact time, it took about 40 minutes from booting the DVD to first sign on (“Preparing your desktop”).

No surprises at all during the installation. Not that I expected any ;). Preparing the desktop for the first time took roughly 45 seconds. At some point during the install I was asked which wireless network I wanted to join. Very nice! The MBA has a Broadcom 802.11n network adapter according to the Vista device manager.

When the user desktop was prepared for the first time, Windows Update kicked in and found 2 updates available. One is the Windows Defender signature file, the other is a Windows Beta update for Win7. Both installed flawlessly and after reboot (the Windows Beta update does some post logoff and pre-logon work, be a bit patient), the system was up to the latest beta software.

 

Boot Camp and drivers

Now for the fun part. Devices. This is a great story! Again, depending on your model and hardware configuration YMMV!
The only driver that was marked as missing from the device manager was the driver for the built-in iSight camera. Further investigation yielded the following: The right mouse button (two-finger-on-the-mouse-pad-mouse-button-click) did not work, the backlit keyboard stayed dark and none of the function keys did work either. No panic, we have not yet installed the Boot Camp drivers.

I inserted the Mac OS installation disk that comes with the MBA and the driver installation kicked in. Took a while but was worth every minute. BTW, my Boot Camp version is 2.01. I installed the Boot Camp stuff and enabled automatic update to catch some later drivers and updates, if available. After an eventless installation, a reboot is required. What a great and pleasant surprise! All drivers did install and everything I tried (keyboard, mouse, camera …) worked great.

Oh well, expect for the sound. The OS install prepared a High Definition Audio device that did not work. Since I knew Realtek HD audio hardware is installed I went to the Realtek website www.realtek.com.tw, downloaded and installed the audio codec/device driver for Vista (you have to accept the agreement to get to the download), unfortunately to no effect. After a reboot audio was still not working.

Since I had seen this in another installation before, I tried the same trick as before and it worked. Just to into the device manager and update the driver manually via Update Driver Software …/Browse my Computer…/Let me pick…/Have Disk and navigate to the Vista folder of the extracted ZIP file you’ve downloaded from Realtek. Install the “Realtek High Definition Audio” device (I picked the first from 2 in the list). I had to reboot after the installation to get full fidelity (from the one built-in speaker J).

 

Files and Settings Transfer

Not much to say here. Works as expected. In Vista I ran the transfer wizard and saved all files and settings to a connected USB drive. After the installation I ran the Windows 7 version via double click onto the file to restore the settings and files. Just works. All email accounts, mailboxes, files, settings for all Microsoft and most 3rd party applications have been restored and – after a reboot – the desktop is restored with all shortcuts and stuff from the previous Vista desktop.

Note to self: Write an update to this post about user experience running Windows 7 and applications on the MacBook Air.

Comments (21)

  1. Volker,

    Did you do a Win7 only install (so no Bootcamp) ?

    I have tried several ways of installing Win7 both in bootcamp as well as installing the MBA WIN7 only. In all scenarios the installation halts in the expending pahse at exactly 83% …

    I will now try an upgrade via a Vista install and see if that goes well

    Any thoughts ?

  2. Ben Das says:

    Hi Volker and thanks for post on this Windows 7 install. I own a MacBook Air (early 2008) 1.8 Ghz Duo Core 2 – 64 GB SSD) and installed Windows 7 (by booting from the CD, didn’t use bootcamp to setup a partition) and then installed Bootcamp and drivers from Mac OS X cd my system came with. Lastly I downloaded/installed the RealTEK audio drivers from that site. Everything works great except the keyboard F keys aren’t working to adjust screen brightness, audio, etc. Did you also have this problem? Is there a solution? And if not what would you say the chances are of a solution being made later (new driver?)?

    Thanks for your interesting reviews and advice!

  3. Ben Das says:

    On a follow up note and for the record I’m using the 64 bit version of Windows 7 and I was able to get the keys on the keyboard to work after going into the CD’s driver/apple/x64 folder and manually installing all the drivers listed there. 🙂 Everything works great!

  4. @ Peter de Haas,

    I installed Win7 into the same partition as Vista was before. Vista was running in a partition that has been created via Boot Camp. Did you install on another system from the same DVD? You might have a bad media.

  5. @ Ben Das,

    After the OS installation and the suggested updates from Windows Update and after a necessary reboot I inserted the Mac OS install DVD and launched the Boot Camp driver installation. It took about 7 minutes or so to install all drivers. After the install I had to reboot again.

    From then on the backlight and all other F-Keys work like a charm. Did you install the 64-bit version of Win7? There may be a difference in driver implementation.

    One difference between our installations seems to be that you installed the Realtek driver __before__ the Boot Camp drivers.

    Do you have the same Boot Camp version? Mine is 2.01.

    One more thing. In Windows you can change setting for the F-Keys. Open the settings dialog from the context menu of the tray icon for Boot Camp. It will allow you to change the behavior of the F-Keys. They can either work as “normal” function keys or as special purpose keys (don’t remember the correct term). If you backlight changes when you press the Fn key and the F-Keys for screen backlight, you have to adjust the settings as described above.

  6. flo says:

    @peter de haas: Bootcamp is not a program, it describes the windows drivers apple supplies and the updated firmware that enables legacy mode, which allows non efi (legacy) systems to boot at all. And while technically it might be possible to totally uninstall os x, this would prevent you from installing firmware updates and such in the future.

  7. Justin says:

    "I tried to create the USB stick using the video and paying close attention to the comments from many of the folks having watched the video. I could never get the MBA to boot from a USB stick or even recognize the USB stick as a bootable device. My stripped down version of the Mac OS on another USBV stick boots just fine. I’ve tried the media I prepared on a laptop and it worked well."

    That one’s Apple’s fault: the BIOS emulation layer refuses to boot an OS from a USB device *unless* it’s an optical drive.

  8. Justin says:

    Sorry for the repeat comments… I’m writing these as I read the article…

    "Network Boot"

    Another bit of Apple joy: Apple firmware can’t netboot into the BIOS emulation layer.

    Moreover, just using the DVD Sharing app isn’t enough – you actually have to use the "Remote Install Mac OS X" app to work the black magic that makes it happen. And that app will also only let you pick an OSX DVD.

    (That said, the MBA definitely can netboot over a WPA-guarded 802.11n network – I’ve done it many times.)

  9. John says:

    Hi all, thanks for this great post. Just want to share a tip on my experience installing Windows 7 on my (early 2008) macbook air.

    I was able to successfully fix the random "sleep/wakeup" issue!

    I used Beta build 7068, installed with SuperDrive on Bootcamp. Installed without a hitch.

    After Windows is ready, I installed bootcamp 2.0.1 that came with MacOS DVD, then installed bootcamp 2.1 update. Fixed the sound, everything seems ready.

    Here is when I noticed the *random* "unable to sleep or wake up" problem, which required a hard reboot. After using it for a while longer, I noticed my wireless sometimes disconnects, and no matter what I do I can’t make it connect again.

    I then luckily noticed that, whenever this happens, Windows 7 is unable to sleep and wake up properly. (I’ve waited for this to happen several times, and everytime the wireless dies, sleeping is guaranteed not to work, on my MBA anyways).

    i fixed this by simply going to device manager, find the Broadcom wireless adapter, and go to Properties, and have Windows 7 automatically looks up the latest driver for it online.

    I noticed the bootcamp 2.1 wireless driver has a date of 2007. After auto getting the latest, the driver shows a 2008 timestamp.

    My wireless never dies afterwards, and sleep works perfectly all the time now.

    I hope this helps, I’ve only had this installation for a whole day. Will post back if anything comes up.

  10. @John, thanks for the comprehensive report! I am still on build 7000 but have the same issue with my wireless dying on me. To me it happens during or after watching a video online. I’ll check my wireless driver tonight.

  11. Mutahir says:

    Hi,

    I have installed windows7 (No Bootcamp) on my Macbook White, everything is working fine (All Drivers), just the trackpad/touchpad isn’t able to TAP, I can use the button to click an object.

    I am using a USB Mouse at the moment which is working fine but would be great to have the touch pad tapping as well

    thanks

  12. Hi Mutahir,

    Glad to hear (almost) everyting works fine. as far as I know the trackpad does not support tapping to click. This is a limitation/feature of the trackpad. Doesn’t work in the Mac OS either.

  13. yassine says:

    hi man can you give us the link where we can download the sond and other drivers for the macbook air

  14. Hello Yassine,

    all drivers can be found on the Mac OS installation disk. The DVD can be used to install the Mac OS as well as all drivers required in Boot Camp. The Boot Camp drivers are the drivers yoiu need for native Windows support on the MacBook Air.

  15. Shayne says:

    How to make BootCamp 3 work on a MacBook Air with Win 7 64 Bit?

    Thanks for these useful comments. I have an original MacBook Air purchased mid 2008 with 64GB SSD and the external superdrive. This week I ran bookcamp from the Snow Leopard DVD and managed to create a 45GB partition leaving 15GB for OS X and then proceed to install Windows 7 (I used 64Bit upgrade then entered the license key later). During bootcamp procedure in OS X, Bootcamp would not "save the drivers to an external drive", so after much reading from ay others who experienced this problem, I continued with the install anyway, choosing "Bootcamp already installed" or another such similar message, as recommended.

    I now have Win 7 64 Bit home premium running and used the drivers on the Snow Leopard CD to get most of the hardware devices working including the camera audio and screen. Office 2010 Professional with Outook and other apps works fine. It runs nice and fast and I am VPN'ing into a corporate network using a USB smartcard so connectivity is good, and I can use my 30" apple cinema display too! I'm using Windows Live Mesah to sync files to the skydrive and after all this have about 15GB pf space left.

    P.S. – I started out by using VMWare Fusion 3.1 because I liked the idea of using Time Machine to back everything up. Warning: Soon after using VMWare, my hard drive VMWare volume filled to the max and I also had relatively poor performance because its an "emulation" and has each of the 2 CPU cores are set up for 1 to each serve Windows and OS X, so I realized that it was time to dump it and go with the dual boot "Boot Camp"

    Here's the problem: When I try and run Bootcamp from the DVD inside windows from the leopard DVD I receive the message "Boot Camp x64 is unsupported on this computer model". Because of this, I do not have the Bootcamp icon in the system tray to adjust keyboard mouse etc.

    As an intermin measure I am launching a mouse app each time I boot to allow me to use the ctrl key to right click the mouse.

    I also tried upgrading Bootcamp to V 3.1 and 3.1 but it says to instal version 3 first.

    Does anybody know how I can overcome this problem without having to re-do the entire install? I rather like the x64 version because its fast and I can use the corporate MS Apps for work that are provided to me.

    2nd Mac

    Being a relative newbie to returning to windows after nearly 10 years I see a lot has changed. I'm about to also install windows on my "other" mac which is a 2007 MacBook Pro Ultimate with 17" screen, I have partitioned the new 500GB drive (installed to replace the original 120GB drive) and divided the space equally between Windows and OS X. Then I managed to install Windows XP Profesisonal with SP2 after an NTFS format and also managed to restore all my original mac profiles and files over the network from Time machine.

    Here's the catch: I just relaized that Microsoft do not support upgrading from XP Pro SP2 straight to Win 7 – you have to have a copy of Vista, so I am goig to buy a copy of Visa Hoe Premium and then (hopefully) install the 64 Bt version and then u/g to Win 7. Difficult (and frustrating) I know, but have to stick with the licensing rules.

    Any insights or suggestions would be appreciated.

    My first pririty is how to get (any version) of BootCamp working on the MBA so that I can upgrade it and continue to enjoy the system.

  16. Shayne says:

    How to make BootCamp 3 work on a MacBook Air with Win 7 64 Bit?

    Thanks for these useful comments. I have an original MacBook Air purchased mid 2008 with 64GB SSD and the external superdrive. This week I ran bookcamp from the Snow Leopard DVD and managed to create a 45GB partition leaving 15GB for OS X and then proceed to install Windows 7 (I used 64Bit upgrade then entered the license key later). During bootcamp procedure in OS X, Bootcamp would not "save the drivers to an external drive", so after much reading from ay others who experienced this problem, I continued with the install anyway, choosing "Bootcamp already installed" or another such similar message, as recommended.

    I now have Win 7 64 Bit home premium running and used the drivers on the Snow Leopard CD to get most of the hardware devices working including the camera audio and screen. Office 2010 Professional with Outook and other apps works fine. It runs nice and fast and I am VPN'ing into a corporate network using a USB smartcard so connectivity is good, and I can use my 30" apple cinema display too! I'm using Windows Live Mesah to sync files to the skydrive and after all this have about 15GB pf space left.

    P.S. – I started out by using VMWare Fusion 3.1 because I liked the idea of using Time Machine to back everything up. Warning: Soon after using VMWare, my hard drive VMWare volume filled to the max and I also had relatively poor performance because its an "emulation" and has each of the 2 CPU cores are set up for 1 to each serve Windows and OS X, so I realized that it was time to dump it and go with the dual boot "Boot Camp"

    Here's the problem: When I try and run Bootcamp from the DVD inside windows from the leopard DVD I receive the message "Boot Camp x64 is unsupported on this computer model". Because of this, I do not have the Bootcamp icon in the system tray to adjust keyboard mouse etc.

    As an intermin measure I am launching a mouse app each time I boot to allow me to use the ctrl key to right click the mouse.

    I also tried upgrading Bootcamp to V 3.1 and 3.1 but it says to instal version 3 first.

    Does anybody know how I can overcome this problem without having to re-do the entire install? I rather like the x64 version because its fast and I can use the corporate MS Apps for work that are provided to me.

    2nd Mac

    Being a relative newbie to returning to windows after nearly 10 years I see a lot has changed. I'm about to also install windows on my "other" mac which is a 2007 MacBook Pro Ultimate with 17" screen, I have partitioned the new 500GB drive (installed to replace the original 120GB drive) and divided the space equally between Windows and OS X. Then I managed to install Windows XP Profesisonal with SP2 after an NTFS format and also managed to restore all my original mac profiles and files over the network from Time machine.

    Here's the catch: I just relaized that Microsoft do not support upgrading from XP Pro SP2 straight to Win 7 – you have to have a copy of Vista, so I am goig to buy a copy of Visa Hoe Premium and then (hopefully) install the 64 Bt version and then u/g to Win 7. Difficult (and frustrating) I know, but have to stick with the licensing rules.

    Any insights or suggestions would be appreciated.

    My first pririty is how to get (any version) of BootCamp working on the MBA so that I can upgrade it and continue to enjoy the system.

  17. Alexis says:

    Hey Shayne, any luck with that? I have the same problem. I installed Win 7 on my MBA 2.1 (2009) but cannot find a copy of Boot Camp that work on it! Thus, I'm missing most of the drivers…

  18. I recently installed Windows 7 on an iMac. Same experience as with the MBA. I never created the DVD or copied files to a USB drive. It actually always failed …

    After the Windows installation and booted into Windows, insert the Mac OS installation disk and run Setup. That does the trick.

    AFAIK you can also download current and older versions of Boot Camp installs from Apple's support website: support.apple.com/downloads

  19. Nicolo' says:

    Hello

    thanks for the nice post

    I'm struggling a bit to install Windows 7 (Ultimate SP1 32 bit) on an Apple Macbook Air 1,1 (Early 2008), which is more or less what you describe. I'm doing that without OS X or Boot Camp, just an external USB DVD drive. (Which works fine in general, since I used it to install Ubuntu and win xp.) My problem is that, once I press alt to show the bootable drives, it correctly displays the various possibilities, but once I click on the win CD image it stalls with black screen: do you know how to solve this?

    Best

  20. Nicolo' says:

    may it be related to my using a standard (vs. Apple) USB DVD drive? or to my using SP1? or to my machine being mba 1,1 with 1.6 GHz proc and 80 GB HD (vs. 1.8 and 64 SSD)?

  21. @Nicolo', I doubt it being related to your specific HW – except for the non-Apple DVD drive. The drive might require a specific driver … But I am just guessing. I did a quick search on the web using "mba non-apple usb drive boot" and found entries where people had similar challenges.